Ryan Carpenter compared the first two games of the Western Conference Final with the opening rounds of a championship fight.
“You’re feeling each other out a little bit,” the Golden Knights forward said Tuesday during the team’s media availability at City National Arena.
The Knights absorbed a couple of early blows from Winnipeg but made the necessary adjustments in Game 2 and emerged with a 3-1 victory to steal away home-ice advantage in the seven-game series.
They’ll hope to apply those lessons starting Wednesday in Game 3 at T-Mobile Arena. Opening faceoff isscheduled for 6 p.m.
According to the NHL, when the conference final/semifinal is tied at 1, the winner of Game 3 holds an all-time series record of 35-8 (since the 1974-75 season).
“I thought we were quicker, and we were faster and more competitive,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “And when you do that, you limit the other team’s time and space. When any team at this level has a chance to make plays with time, they’re going to make the right plays.
“And if you’re putting pressure on them, everybody’s going to make mistakes in games, and that’s what happened. I thought we had a lot more pressure (Monday) night than we did in Game 1.”
Nashville provided a blueprint for how to disrupt the Jets, winning twice in Winnipeg during the Western Conference semifinals.
In both victories, the Predators controlled the neutral zone and did not let the Jets utilize their speed in transition.
The Knights used a similar game plan during their Game 2 victory at Bell MTS Place.
“First of all, we played good (defense),” said forward Jonathan Marchessault, who had two goals in the Game 2 win and leads the Knights in postseason scoring. “I think we eliminated their options quick, and we didn’t spend a lot of time in our (defensive) zone.
“Second of all, I think our forecheck was great. We put a lot of pressure on the (defense), we got some turnovers and we were able to create some chances. I think that’s the biggest change that we did Game 1 to 2.”
The Knights withstood another fast start from the Jets on Monday, but settled in midway through the first period.
Winnipeg generated a paltry two shot attempts in the final 11:08 of the first, and its lone shot on goal in that stretch came on Brandon Tanev’s wrister from 70 feet away with five seconds remaining.
“As opposed to Game 1, where I thought they had a lot of seam passes, one-timers and a lot of shots from the slot, I thought we limited those and kept a lot more of those on the outside,” forward Ryan Reaves said.
“We just played our game. We were hunting pucks. We were relentless. We were limiting shots from the dangerous areas, and we took care of the start. I think we knew that we had to do that. I just don’t think we were ready for it in Game 1. We played a really good team game.”
Added goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury: “It’s going to be (a) long (series), I think. But I think we showed (Monday) night to ourselves and to everybody that when we play like we can and we want, we’ll be in good shape.”
The key for the Knights in Game 3 is to follow the same template they used Monday: match Winnipeg’s intensity in the opening period and keep the Jets’ talented forwards to the perimeter.
“We just can’t get away from our game,” defenseman Brayden McNabb said. “We just have to keep building off (Monday) night. Managing the puck is the big thing. They’re a fast team and they have a good transition game. We need to be good in the neutral zone, and I think that will take us a long way.”
1. Hot shots. The Golden Knights’ top line of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith have combined for nine points (three goals, six assists) in the two games against Winnipeg. That’s been pivotal since the Knights’ second line is yet to get untracked.
2. Boxing out. The Jets are 3-for-7 with the man advantage in the series and have at least one power-play goal in seven of their past eight games in the postseason. Staying out of the penalty box — the Knights have taken 10 penalties in two games — is paramount.
3. Bang Byfuglien. The Knights tried to dish out a couple of hits on Winnipeg defenseman Dustin Byfuglien in Game 2 and bounced off him like a rubber Super Ball (see: Reaves, Ryan). But the tactic appeared to take Byfuglien off his game; he had three giveaways and only one shot on goal.
David Schoen Review-Journal